While the fallout from the material copied by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has caused debate to rage within the USA – with several technology companies now signed up to a movement to Reform Government Surveillance – all too much of the press in the UK has covered the story as if it were an act of treachery by the deeply subversive Guardian.
So while Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook and others put their names to a campaign that states “While the undersigned companies understand that governments need to take action to protect their citizens’ safety and security, we strongly believe that current laws and practices need to be reformed”, much of the Fourth Estate in the UK has not bothered. Until today.
The problem with the revelations about the behaviour of the NSA, and of GCHQ in this country, was that the story refused to break out beyond the Guardian and Observer, and that was in the most part down to the visceral hatred of those titles’ role in exposing the scale of phone hacking and the rest of what is more kindly referred to as “The Dark Arts”.
Thus the tendency towards a culture of press Omerta: even the Guardian starting a media column, and therefore talking about other titles, was enough to invoke the boiling rage of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre in condemnation. It was just not done to dump on your own kind. Fortunately, this tendency to Mafia-like closing of ranks has been broken by Kevin Maguire at the Mirror.
“I spy a culture of pandering to MI5” he observes, following up with “The culture of secrecy and deference surrounding spy chiefs isn’t good for freedom or national security. Why do we tolerate it?” and, more tellingly, “Not one piece of evidence was given to prove fugitive US contractor Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing endangered agents or the defence of the realm”. Got it in one.
Maguire goes on to contrast the cringe-inducing appearance of the security chiefs before the Intelligence and Security Committee, where Andrew “Nosey” Parker and pals were allowed to make a number of assertions unchallenged, and the later grilling of Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, which featured chair Keith Vaz pitching the McCarthy-style “do you love your country?” question.
Maguire concludes “The case for a US-style First Amendment to protect free speech, and the rights of journalists, never sounded greater. Intimidating journalists is a revived hobby of the political class”. Barton Gellman, quoted by the New York Times, concurs: “I am very happy to enjoy the protections of American law and American political traditions in terms of investigative journalism”.
Good to see the story starting to break out. And good for Kevin Maguire.